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Bar News - May 18, 2007

Work-Life Balance: A Focus on Values Creates Value



A key concept in marketing is the unique selling proposition (USP). Any business—whether it’s a law practice or consumer product manufacturer—in marketing parlance must distinguish itself from its competition to survive and thrive.


‘Truth. Justice. And returned phone calls’

Located on the opening page of the McLane law firm’s Web site, the message above suggests that the firm is committed to delivering results rooted in three areas: the values of truth, justice and reliability expressed in a commitment to be responsive to its customers.


Is this the firm’s USP? Perhaps, perhaps not. This expression is clearly an attempt to distinguish the firm from others, as a common complaint regarding lawyers is lack of access or “she just doesn’t return my phone calls.”


But what about you? What is your USP? Each of us lives and breathes according to values which are unique to each of us. The clearer and more honest you are about your values, the more effective you can be as an attorney and as a human being.


What is it that is most important to you?

The third definition in the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines a value as relative worth, utility, or importance, while the first two definitions relate to monetary worth.


An exercise that I have come to cherish is comparing my actions against my primary values, which are service, independence and responsibility. Often when I observe a point of success or happiness in my work or life, I note how, if at all, the moment relates to my values. I find that there is often a close correlation. For example, when a client finds a new job he is delighted with, I find great satisfaction in having served or helped that person be happier and more successful. When I finished climbing New Hampshire’s 4,000-foot mountains, part of my elation was associated with my value of independence and the sense of adventure implicit in this value.


Just to stimulate your thinking on this point I’ll list a number of values and ask you to articulate your three key values, either from this list or from what comes to mind. Some values include: connection, collaboration, competition, financial success, family, justice, beauty, creativity, helping, risk taking, influence, facilitating, security, predictability, and teaching.


What are your top three values?


Here’s the tricky part, how do key moments and everyday actions in your life, reflect these values? In short, how well do you live by them, especially when the values may conflict? A wrenching dynamic we all have seen, and some of us have experienced, occurs when a parent who places a high priority on her children, faces a conflict between the two values of excellence at work and a commitment to family.


Holding ourselves to the standard of living according to our values can be intimidating, but think of it as an experiment. Our collective cynicism about such claims as “family values” touted by public figures whose actions may be in conflict with their stated values shouldn’t scare us off the noble task of living as honestly as we can.


This reminds me of the apt phrase, “You can have it all, you just can’t have it all at once.” Other priorities and values may need to take a back seat when children are small and a career is in its early development. 


Releasing oneself from the expectation of defining “having it all” as being a great parent, making partner, being a published author, and successfully competing in marathons might be a very helpful first step to being effective.


Our values can be a valuable guide to creating outward and inner coherence. The more we know who we are, what we believe, and what we can deliver on, the more at peace and effective we can be.


Celebrate your uniqueness, your USP.


Betsy Black, J.D., A.C.C., is an accredited life coach and lawyer who’s left the practice of law. You can reach her at or 603-228-6195.


If you are in doubt about the status of any meeting, please call the Bar Center at 603-224-6942 before you head out.

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